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Why Black MPs Should Stand Up to Be Counted

Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Harman nominates Abbott

My friends at Operation Black Vote and previously the Labour Party Black Sections have worked their butts off to help increase the number of African Caribbean and Asian members of the British parliament.

As a result the figure has risen from 15 at the last General Election to 27 in May. Yet, at the first solidarity test set for the 16 new black Labour MPs the result has not been promising.

After veteran Black MP Diane Abbott announced that – in the interest of racial and gender diversity – that she would stand in the all male, pale and stale Labour leadership contest I expected a majority of our MPs to back her. That was what the vast majority of black Congress people in America did when Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring to become US president. But, no. Diane has so far been able to muster just three nominations from her sisters and brother; those of fellow Labour Party Black Sections stalwart Keith Vaz, David Lammy, a neighbouring MP in Tottenham, and just one of the newcomers, the principled Chinyelu Onwurah.

Diane’s seven other nomination come from white MPs. Initially Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman said she would stay neutral because of her position but bravely urged her comrades in parliament to follow her example and nominate Diane to ensure there was at least one woman candidate.

Hot favourites, the Miliband brothers have already passed the 33 nominations threshold to guarantee a place on the ballot paper. Of the Black MPs, David Miliband has garnered the support of ambitious former member of the government Virendra Sharma and newbies  Anas Sarwar, Valerie Vaz and Yasmin Qureshi.  And his mildly more left-wing brother Ed has won over Chuka Umunna, Lisa Nandy  and Sadiq Khan’s support. Ed Balls is backed by Marsha Singh and Khalid Mahmood. Three Black MPs remain undecided: Mark Hendrick, Rushanara Ali and Shabana Mahmood. I hope, if only in the name of sisterly solidarity that Rushanara and Shabana  side with Diane.

The black MPs have got to learn how to play big people’s politics. You do not get respect from white folk by being disunited. The same white folk wax lyrical about Obama as America’s first black president but baulk at the idea of a major political party having a black woman as its leader. If the black MPs had all nominated Diane, no matter what their misgivings about her, they would have presented themselves as a powerful bloc to be reckoned with.

As David Lammy pointed out, who they voted for thereafter would have been less important than the symbolic and historic act of supporting a black sister for Labour’s top job.

By Marc Wadsworth
Chair, Labour Party Black Sections (1986-1988)

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6 Responses

  1. Those black and Asian MPs should be ashamed of themselves for not nominating Diane- instead so many of them rushing to nominate Ed Balls and Miliband.

    Diane needs their support and it would have cost them nothing to nominate her. Just goes to show that they are looking to align themselves with the person they think will be the next leader.

    OBV needs to ask them why they didn’t nominate Diane- how can they justify that?

    • What? They would have voted based who they thought could do the job – which is exactly how they should vote, how you should expect them to vote and how you should DEMAND that they vote – not hold an expectation that they vote just because a candidate is black or a woman. I’ve never heard anything so foolish in my life and it’s a type of clownish political mentality that will absolute ensure near-zero black political credibility.

      They don’t need any justification for voting fairly – any suggestion otherwise is plainly damaging nonsense.

      With that, and on that basis, she actually didn’t get the backing she needed – and I think rightly so as she’s not competent for the job – yet her success in that regard was then simply engineered – THAT is what supporters ought to wish to see justified, rather than clutching brazen opportunism and rigging to their bosoms as some kind of victory for black politics – it’s absolutely the reverse!

      The situation is absurd and and the credibility of this is absolutely nil.
      Rather than a success, this is a woeful tragedy.

  2. I have called for Labour MPs collectively to secure enough nominations for Diane Abbott.

    The answer to “how can they justify that?” is surely straightforward. Sadiq Khan and Chuka Ummuna, for example, both believe Ed Miliband would be the best leader of the Labour Party, and so wished to nominate and support him. Indeed, both had done so before Abbott made her surprise decision to be a candidate (which seemed to be unanticipated by anybody, including Operation Black Vote), which makes the charge a particularly bizarre one.

    Similar reasons surely apply to Virendra Sharma’s support of David Miliband, Marsha Singh’s support of Ed Balls, and the others cited. I don’t know the timing in every case.

    Nobody can be seriously advancing the proposition that all black MPs should support Diane Abbott for leader because of her race, and/or women MPs because of her gender.

    I agree that some MPs could nominate an MP they were not planning to vote for as leader – as Lammy and Harman appear to have done – and called for others to do so. But the breadth of the race is not solely the responsibility of the black and Asian or women MPs, and they may well have principled reasons for supporting the candidate they back, so I think it is odd to claim the only possible principled decision for a black or female poltiician is to support a candidate on grounds of race or gender solidarity.

  3. I think Marc Wadsworth is missing the point. The initial paucity of votes for Diane Abbott is more of a statement about the collective commitment or otherwise of the Parliamentary Labour Party to diversity and equalites than anything about solidarity of black MP’s.

    The responsibility lies with the leadership of the Labour Party, the NEC and the Trades Unions. The unpalatable truth is that the structures, systems, processes and procedures of the Labour Party belie its stated policies and values about fairness and equalities.

    Diane Abbot has shown courage and fortutitude in putting the collective Parliamentary Labour Party to the test in the public gaze. I commend her for that. Because unfairness can only succeed if we collude with it and allow it to remain behind closed doors.

    The message, I hope Diane has sent to other black MP’s, Councillors, GLA members et.al. is to stop consciously playing second fiddle to white colleagues on every given occasion.

  4. “Indeed, both had done so before Abbott made her surprise decision to be a candidate (which seemed to be unanticipated by anybody, including Operation Black Vote), which makes the charge a particularly bizarre one”.

    Sorry, Sunder you’re half wrong here. Sadiq Khan nominated Ed Miliband on Wednesday 19th May but Chuka Umunna nominated Ed Miliband on Monday 24th May – a clear 4-5 days AFTER Diane made her announcement at 8am on Thursday 20th May that she was planning to stand for leader. Can Umunna truly say no one from the Abbott camp approached him between 20th May and 24th May to ask him to support her?

  5. Sadiq Khan gave media interviews fo Ed Miliband’s campaign on Saturday 15th May, the day he launched, when speaking at the Fabian conference. My recollection from talking to him is that Chuka was already leaning strongly towards Ed M, but he was also waiting to hear Jon Cruddas’ decision later that week.

    Yes, you are right about the timing of their formal nominations though.

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